In their best effort to date, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated Sydney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1.
The Maple Leafs entered the night short Tyler Bozak, their nominal number-one center. Nazem Kadri moved up the line-up to slot in between James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel.
The game saw the Leafs and Pens both playing the second-half of back-to-back games. Pittsburgh jumped to an early lead when Kris Letang, in his first game of the year, scored a power-play goal.
The Leafs did not just sit back, they pressed hard on the fore check and late into the first period Dion Phaneuf spotted Dave Bolland and split the Pittsburgh defense with a slap pass. Bolland proceeded to take a slap shot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who came out to challenge Bolland. Bolland’s goal was Toronto’s second shorthanded goal of the year.
In the second period the Penguins tried to seize control of the game outshooting the Leafs 16-4, but were outdone by the excellent performance of James Reimer. Blocking 37 of 38 shots, Reimer showed that he isn’t so keen to surrender the job of starting goaltender. Reimer finished the night with a .974 save percentage, bringing his save percentage for the year to .933.
The third period saw Kadri score his fourth goal of the year on an excellent pass from Kessel. Kadri, showing his “nifty mittens” out-deked Fleury and left him with little chance to save the puck.
The Leafs kept their foot on the gas pedal throughout the third period. With less than five minutes left in the game, JVR fed Kessel with a nice cross-crease pass which let him tap in his seventh goal of the year. The goal was very similar to one Kessel scored against the Anaheim Ducks.
Bolland also put the puck into an empty net, landing his second goal of the night and his sixth goal of the season.
With Bozak injured, Kadri proved himself to be more than capable of filling the shoes of Kessel’s centre. The game also saw Morgan Rielly play his tenth game of the season which means that the Leafs are burning the first year of his entry-level contract.
“You don’t win in this league without goaltending that gives you a chance, and Reims gives us a chance,” Coach Randy Carlyle said in a post-game press conference.
“There’s been stretches where we get outshot, but our goaltending is making big saves for us,” said van Riemsdyk. “They’ve gave us a chance almost every night. That’s all you can ask for out of your goalies.”
The Leafs next game will be an away game played on Tuesday Oct. 29 against the Edmonton Oilers. The game will begin at 9 p.m. EST.